This calendar year’s Mancunion comes to an end today, and I want to dedicate my column to what I feel has been the most significant event of the year – the ‘Arab Spring’. With practically unforeseen uprisings in no less than sixteen countries, 2012 may see a distinctly more civilised world than 2011.
While we muse over whether we looked good at our New Year’s party, or get frantically excited at the prospect of January sales, we should not forget those who have died trying to establish things we take for granted. Not that I’m saying you should have a depressing Christmas holiday, but it might be worth sparing a thought for our fellow humans who have lost their lives for the freedom of their friends and neighbours and those who are still being oppressed. ]
It is a matter of circumstantial fortune that we have been born into a relatively privileged society. If you had been born an Egyptian, would you not want the student from Manchester to at least recognise your struggle, if not use their favourable circumstances to aid your struggle? Sign a petition, donate some money, write a letter to your local MP demanding a tangible show of solidarity for those still struggling – and at the very least have the respect to acknowledge the loss of life of those who have chosen to die on their feet so that others might not have to live on their knees.
In Syria, the United Nations estimates that about 3,500 people have died as the Syrian government has sought to, as the BBC says, “put down anti-government protests.” The expression ‘murdering civil rights activists’ might be more apt – but, however we wish to express it, the death of that many civilians as a result of government action shows the plight Syrians now face.
Although democracy has not yet fully materialised in Libya, some of the aims of the people have already been achieved: freedom of speech, the absence of arbitrary arrest, and the removal of an unelected hierarchy dictating their lives. For many Libyans in Britain, such as my friend’s grandfather who visited Libya for the first time in thirty years this June, there is a chance to go back to the country they were born in. For every Libyan who has been in exile from Gaddafi’s Draconian Dissent Laws, the opportunity is there to see their children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters and childhood friends- something those whose families and friends live in Britain take for granted.
Many dismissed those living in Arab nations as not wanting democracy or change. It’s often the same line of argument used by the idiots who say the Chinese don’t want democracy, as their beliefs are entrenched in Confucian philosophy. The same ‘academics’ should look to Europe and question why we don’t follow the teachings of Plato , one of the most ardent critics of democracy in philosophical history. In any case, those who say Islam is incompatible with democracy ignore the fact that no leader in the countries with unrest ever claimed to have adopted a ‘Caliphate’ system of governance. It also ignores the fact that the most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, is a democracy.
In Bahrain the struggle is still prevalent, with the tiny temporary concessions the current regime has made, along with other Arab countries, seemingly enough to avert the gaze of the international media and political players alike. Only this week have they won a concession from the Royal Family that they will crack down on torture- something which is confusing given that, by the Royal Family’s own account, torture hasn’t existed for the last thirty years.
Elsewhere, temporary measures such as the astounding 40% increase in wages in Lebanon, have merely sought to buy off political opponents. It betrays the desperation of governments who fear that change is imminent, clinging on to power while they can. These temporary measures will not provide a long term solution to any of the conflicts. Until constitutional safeguards are implemented and upheld in states such as Morocco, the governments will continue to clash with the people.
Looking ahead to 2012, hopefully countries such as Egypt will not slip back into a situation in which the military has an influence over policy making beyond the one vote they have in elections. Two years ago, the prospect of free and fair elections were alien. Today, movements for change may mean that future generations have a chance to decide their own future